EPL

Mikel Arteta heaps praise on players as Arsenal pull four points clear at summit

By Sports Desk December 02, 2023

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta praised his side as they scored two early goals to down Wolves and open up a four-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

With closest challengers and reigning champions Manchester City not in action until Sunday, Mikel Arteta’s side took full advantage as Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard struck in the opening 16 minutes before a nervy ending brought about by Matheus Cunha’s strike.

The Gunners ultimately ran out 2-1 winners on an afternoon where their early goals were the peak of a performance that promised more than it provided.

Having thrashed Lens here 6-0 on Wednesday to ensure safe passage into the last 16 of the Champions League, Wolves proved they were made of sterner stuff and stayed in the contest until the last.

But despite seeing his side labour after racing ahead, Arteta was still left pleased with the performance.

“I can only praise the players,” he said.

“They were excellent. We played against a really good side and generated so much and conceded almost nothing. The scoreline should have been very different. We were very unlucky because we hit the post three times I think.

“At the end we made an error close to the goal – in the Premier League you get punished big time for that. Then at the end, it’s game on. Overall I’m really happy with how he performed again.”

Arteta also backed Oleksandr Zinchenko – the full-back having made a number of minor errors during the game, including losing possession for Cunha’s consolation.

The Ukraine international had earlier set up Odegaard for the crucial second and Arteta was in no mood to criticise the former Manchester City man.

“You have to love him, how he is,” added the Spaniard.

“Every player has strengths and weaknesses. Alex has many more strengths. This happened and it can happen to any player.

“We have to learn from it because there are certain areas where it’s a big no to play, especially after certain things in the previous phase. That’s it. We will get better.”

While Wolves left north London empty-handed, manager Gary O’Neil was pleased that his team did not capitulate after such a poor start.

“When you concede two early goals, you know it might be a long afternoon,” he said.

“We knew we’d suffer against Arsenal because everybody does.

“The first goal was disappointing. There were so many bodies around Saka. For him to wriggle through and for us to look hesitant in the penalty area is disappointing.

“The second goal was a great goal. We should have prevented it, but it happens. We stuck to the plan, tried to be aggressive and maybe didn’t carry as much of a threat as we would have liked, but not many teams do against Arsenal.

“We managed to hang in and create a bit of a scare, and the lads should take a lot from that.”

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    Mikel Arteta is not setting a points total he believes will deliver the Premier League title – but the Arsenal boss has warned the rest of the season may have to be perfect if they are to do so.

    The Gunners travel to bottom club Sheffield United on Monday night knowing victory will once again see them close to within two points of Liverpool at the summit.

    Reigning champions Manchester City are also locked in the three-way tussle for the title as Arteta aims to bring the Premier League crown back to Arsenal for the first time in 20 years.

    Asked how many points might be required to win the league this season, the Spaniard replied: “You always ask me this question and I never get it right.

    “The demands, you might have to win every game. I don’t know. I have no clue.

    “There are a lot of games and we are all going to have crazy schedules and this league might be different to last season. Anything under 90 points I think it (winning the league) would be very difficult.

    “We have to improve in every aspect, that is all, all managers try to be better in what we do.”

    Arsenal were top of the table at this stage last season and led the pack for a total of 248 days before ultimately slipping behind City in the run-in.

    “I think we are where we deserve to be,” Arteta said on Arsenal’s current standing.

    “We could probably be a little bit better in terms of the points that we have deserved in the league

    “Being (back) in the Champions League is another step – that makes obviously the challenge more difficult and the amount of injuries that we had I think we are going good but we want to do better.

    “The target is clear. It’s to be better every day so that when it comes to the weekend, earn the right to win and do everything you possibly can to win the game.

    “This is the focus and the way I see them training every day gives me  more confidence and more reasons to believe that we have a good chance because they really want it.”

  • Now he is winning games – Pep Guardiola talks up Phil Foden’s impact on Man City Now he is winning games – Pep Guardiola talks up Phil Foden’s impact on Man City

    Pep Guardiola praised fantastic Phil Foden and said the Manchester City midfielder is developing into a world-class player after his wonderful, derby-winning display against Manchester United.

    Nobody expected anything other than embarrassment at the Etihad Stadium for Erik ten Hag’s stumbling Red Devils, yet Marcus Rashford’s scorcher gave them a shock half-time lead.

    United were under the cosh for large periods before and after the break, finally buckling as 23-year-old Foden scored a superb leveller in the 56th minute before then firing City ahead 10 minutes from time.

    Erling Haaland added gloss in stoppage time but there was no doubt who the star of the show was in Sunday’s important 3-1 victory for Guardiola’s title-chasing team.

    “He is right now this season (one of the best players in the Premier League),” the City boss said of man-of-the-match Foden.

    “He’s been the best so far. I always had the feeling he would score goals, in training sessions, always I had the feeling but now he is winning games.

    “To become a world-class player at that age you have to win games and he always played good, always had an incredible work ethic. Doesn’t matter what position, he doesn’t complain.

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    Foden helped the treble winners get out of a hole on Sunday after City fell behind for the 12th time in the league this season.

    It was their first-ever Premier League comeback win against United and means they have recovered 21 points from losing positions this term.

    The result put them back within one point of leaders Liverpool ahead of next weekend’s mouth-watering battle between the sides at Anfield.

    “We have Copenhagen on our mind and we will have time after to talk about Liverpool,” Guardiola said ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 second leg at the Etihad Stadium.

    “We have a lot of points still to play for and different places to go.”

    United bowed out of Europe before Christmas so there are no distractions before Saturday lunchtime’s return to Premier League action at home to embattled Everton.

    The injury-hit Red Devils have regressed during Ten Hag’s second season and sit an eye-watering 19 points behind leaders Liverpool, who they face in the FA Cup quarter-finals.

    Similarly concerning is the fact that sixth-placed United are 11 points off Aston Villa in fourth and six behind fifth-placed Tottenham, which could yet be enough for Champions League qualification.

    But Ten Hag does not believe United are that far behind City when not beset by injuries and felt key decisions hurt his battling side on Sunday.

    “On defining moments, we didn’t have it on our side because just before the 1-1, I think Rashford was on another break,” Ten Hag said.

    “And just before 2-1, there was (Alejandro) Garnacho in a breakthrough. I think we were really close to win or at least get a draw here.

    “I will not say it was a tackle (on Rashford) from Kyle Walker. They both run, but Rashy confirmed to me it was contact.

    “I saw it back, it was very soft, but you will understand when you are on a full-speed run, if you get a little touch then you are out of control and I think that is what happened.”

    Asked if this match highlighted a chasm between the teams, under-fire Ten Hag said: “No, I don’t think so. Absolutely not. We have many problems in injuries and, still, we had an opportunity because it was really small margins.

    “We could have scored a second goal in a debatable moment and in the second debatable moment, so you see it’s not that big. Especially when we have everyone on board we can be competitive.

    “I think also we showed, for instance, in the cup final against them when it’s really close but don’t forget City, in this moment, are the best team in the world.”

  • ‘We call him the sniper’ – Phil Foden lives up to nickname in Manchester derby ‘We call him the sniper’ – Phil Foden lives up to nickname in Manchester derby

    Manchester City captain Kyle Walker lauded “sniper” Phil Foden after his brace helped secure a 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium.

    Foden cancelled out Marcus Rashford’s brilliant first-half opener with a fine strike of his own 11 minutes after the break.

    And the Stockport-born playmaker added another finish in the 80th minute before Erling Haaland wrapped up a Manchester derby victory in stoppage time.

    Walker, asked about Foden’s stunning equaliser, told Sky Sports: “You know when he comes in on his left foot…we call him the sniper, because he likes to shoot.

    “He likes a shot, so when he comes in on that left foot, you know he has the quality and the calmness and composure to pick his spot and I thought he took his goal fantastically well.”

    Foden then switched over to the left side, from where he scored his second and earned City a big victory in their Premier League title challenge.

    Walker added: “The second, probably coming off the left-hand side, you don’t really see Phil in that position but for him to find the corner as he has done, I think that just shows his flexibility.

    “He’s even been trusted down the middle as well this year, which I think is a big part of the responsibility he has taken on. We lean on him and we need important players like him.

    “He loves a shot, he practices, he puts in the work and he’s always doing extra shooting. His goals are coming, he’s reaping the rewards and he needs to keep these standards up.

    “I think this season he’s been nothing short of first class. That’s the standard he sets for himself, that’s the standard we set for him, the manager (Pep Guardiola) and that’s the standard he has to keep up now.”

    Foden, who now has 18 goals in all competitions for City this season, said: “That’s my aim, to turn up in the big games.

    “That’s what I want to do and I think this season I’m proving that. I just need to keep working hard on the training pitch and keep putting performances like that in, keep working hard.

    “I understand what it means for the fans, a derby at the Etihad, it means everything for me. To score as well is even better, but overall to get the win was the most important thing today.”

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